Why I’m Not Anxious About Postpartum Depression

(written in 2016, between the births of our first and second daughters)

One of my first thoughts when I found out I was pregnant with #2 was “will I have postpartum depression again?” And that’s continued to be my biggest worry regarding this pregnancy and birth, to the point where I felt it coming on just from how much I was worrying about it. I knew that if I was expecting it it would be more likely to come, but I also knew I needed to be prepared this time because it’s a very real possibility, especially with circumstances that will be likely at the time of the birth and immediately postpartum.

Then I found a verse reference I had scribbled down to memorize: Jeremiah 17:5-9, 14. I read it again and wondered why I had wanted to memorize it, but decided I should go ahead and memorize it anyway. Not too long later, I was struggling not only with fear of postpartum depression, but wondering if I was having some prenatal depression, mostly due to my worrying about PPD. And that’s when it clicked.

This is the passage:

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is in the LORD, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit.’
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?
“Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for Thou art my praise.”

Jeremiah 17:5-9, 14

For me, this verse has been the key to PPD – not in preventing it but in not being afraid of it, giving both spiritual hope as well as guidance to prepare. Certain phrases were pivotal in that.

Cursed is the man who… makes flesh his strength. Earthly things like vitamins, placenta pills, rest, and nutritious food shouldn’t be what I place my hope in for preventing or getting me through another bout of PPD. Those may all help and could be a part of the “water” and “stream” to plant myself by but are not the stream itself.

Blessed is the man… whose trust is in the LORD. Because when my trust is in Him, then even in the heat and drought that is PPD, I will be rooted and nourished.

PPD is a sick heart for sure – and while there are physical and chemical things that cause it, He is the one that heals and saves in the midst of it.

So I want to spend the next few months extending my roots into the Water of Life, making sure I am spiritually rooted and grounded so I can fight it on the spiritual level (a list of verses, handlettering for strategic places in the house, a playlist to listen to to keep my mind focused), while making sure I am armed to tackle it on the physical level as well (nourishing meals and snacks in the freezer, placenta encapsulation, and a compartmentalized pill box so I keep on top of my vitamins, unlike last time). And in both of those categories goes the support of friends and family, both physical support here and the spiritual support that can be given up close and far away. Finding out a friend here has been through PPD twice was a huge relief for me, just to know there is someone here I know and trust that knows what it feels like.

One of the songs that is going on my playlist and will probably find its way into handlettering is Shane & Shane’s “Though He Slay Me.” Because even after I had had my revolutionary moments with the passage from Jeremiah, I was still struggling – and still do at times – but this is such a good reminder of His worth and faithfulness even in hard times, especially the chorus:

“Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.”


From Shieldmaiden to Healer: Eowyn’s Character Arc

A year and a half ago, I started putting stickers on my water bottle. Most have to do with things that are dear to me: Dubai, theology, oboe. Amidst those is a metallic golden horse head for Rohan. I wanted something more specifically Éowyn, but all I could find in that realm were stickers that said “Shieldmaiden” and “I am no man.” While these are true of Éowyn, they also leave off where Tolkien ends her character arc, an arc that is powerful to me.

When we first meet Éowyn, Tolkien describes her as “fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood.” Her lot, as a young, strong, daughter of kings, has been to wait on a feeble, fading king. No wonder Aragorn perceived her unhappiness when he first saw her. Gandalf later tells Eomer,

“She, being born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonored dotage; and her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff he leaned on.”

It isn’t surprising that she’s discontent and looking for a way out of what is essentially the cage she fears the most (we’ll come back to the cage). She falls in love with Aragorn, which, of course, only increases her distress, as he’s long promised to Arwen.[1] Distress becomes despair, and as she rides to battle with the Rohirrhim, she’s no longer after glory, but death. Even as she approaches the Witch-King, death and defending Theoden are on her mind, not great deeds.

            Nevertheless, she receives honor for her heroism. But the glory of it does not satisfy her: she lives while the world is ending and while the man she loves doesn’t return her love. The Shadow of the Nazgul and the black breath lies heavy on her. She waits, caged, in the Houses of Healing.

            This is what she feared the most. Earlier, she had told Aragorn “I fear neither death nor pain.” When he then asked her “What do you fear, my lady?” her response was this: “A cage… to stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” Naturally, she balks at being restrained to the Houses of Healing, even blatantly saying she’s caged, lying idle as she heals.

            This is how she then meets Faramir, begging him to release her. Instead, they begin to walk together in the gardens, though she reminds him not to look to her for healing, as she is a shieldmaiden with an ungentle hand. At this point, she has come again to health, though not yet to hope, wishing she had died in battle. Faramir patiently and gently speaks truth to her about who she is, reason for hope, and even her love for Aragorn. Although she improves some, she relapses when word of victory comes, because Aragorn does not send for her. And then, one day, as Faramir continues to do what he has always done for her, the Shadow departs.

“I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun; and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a Shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” 

            The place that was to her a cage became the place of her own healing, the place she now willingly chooses to stay as “of all dwellings the most blessed.” The ungentle hand that vied with warriors has turned to healing.[2] In The Two Towers, Éowyn understood the alternative to battle as wasting away, caged and useless, “to be burned in the house [when the men have died in battle and honor] for the men will need it no more.” But by the end of The Return of the King, she sees that it can mean to love all things that grow and are not barren, to be a healer, and that such a role is not second-class by any means, nor does it diminish who she is.[3]

            As a young teen reading Lord of the Rings, the shieldmaiden part of her story was my favorite part and what I identified with most, though I liked her whole arc. But reading the books again after postpartum depression, her arc is so much clearer to me, and to have made the journey from shieldmaiden to healer and in and out of the Shadow myself has made it all the more powerful—and all the more frustrating when her whole arc isn’t told.

To fear a cage and disuse is not bad. Slaying the Witch King is a worthy, necessary, honorable deed. Aragorn and Faramir’s comments to Éowyn about not going to battle do not mean that women are restricted to the home. But we must also ask how we define a “cage” and “great deeds” and “honor.”[4] Éowyn at one point essentially defines a cage as not being able to do what she wills—but as Aragorn rightly points out “few may do that with honor” especially when there is a question of duty and faithfulness. And he continues to say, “Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised” whether they be unseen deeds of healing, or of slaying inner dragons, or cultivating the hearts of others in our children, churches, and other communities. All of these unseen deeds are what prepares us for whatever greater burden might be thrust upon us (Sam’s loyalty to Frodo and Éowyn’s loyalty to Theoden grew in mundane moments, but led to their great deeds).

            To summarize it all in Tolkien’s own words from one of my favorite passages in the whole of Lord of the Rings:

            “You do not go, because only your brother called for you, and to look on the Lord Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, in his triumph would now bring you no joy. Or because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me. And maybe for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot choose between them. Éowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?’
            ‘I wished to be loved by another,’ she answered, ‘But I desire no man’s pity.’
            ‘That I know,’ he said. ‘You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle. Look at me, Éowyn!’
            And Éowyn looked at Faramir long and steadily; and Faramir said: ‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Éowyn! But I do not offer you my pity, For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Éowyn do you not love me?’
            Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.
            ‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’ And again she looked at Faramir. ‘No longer do I desire to be a queen,’ she said.
            Then Faramir laughed merrily. ‘That is well,’ he said; ‘for I am not a king. Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes.”

[1] As much as I love Tolkien and he can do very little wrong in my eyes, I’m annoyed by the love triangle.

[2] Though as the hands of the King are the hands of the healer, in Tolkien’s mind, to be a healer and a warrior are not opposed to one another.

[3] I’m pretty sure Tolkien is saying something about manhood and womanhood with Éowyn’s complete character arc and the conversations with and about her. But I still have a lot to think out and research in that realm before I can say for sure if/what commentary on gender Tolkien is giving here or elsewhere. I also know he did not intentionally make many points (see page 211 of his letters), so anything that can be said likely needs to be drawn from other comments and understanding his broader worldview, of which he’s said very little specifically on this topic (letter 43 in his letters is as much as I’ve yet seen). He does say this explicitly about her, but I do believe he elsewhere does refer to her as Amazonian. “She was not herself ambitious in the true political sense. Though not a ‘dry nurse’ in temper, she was also not really a soldier or ‘amazon’, but like many brave women was capable of great military gallantry at a crisis.” (Letters, page 323, written in 1963).

[4] In The Tolkien Reader, Tolkien has some comments that are well worth reading in this vein in conjunction with his poem, The Homecoming of Beorthnoth.

A Study of Lament: The Solution

(written in 2013, this series draws heavily from Michael Card’s book A Sacred Sorrow)

The previous posts can be condensed very generally into three statements:
The need in pain = His presence.
The problem = where is His kindness?
The solution = I –> You (My problem –> who He is).

If the answer is the presence of God, there is a sense in which we can do nothing, only wait for Him. However, there are still things that can be done, especially in the time of “waiting,” before the vav comes, before change happens. It is a season of waiting, and yet it is not a season to be idle. Many say all you can do is go to a counselor or just “get over it.” And there may be times when that is the wisest counsel. But first we must go to Him and to His word.

I know that when we are sorrowing, we cannot imagine helping others because we are overwhelmed by our own struggles. But I also know that it is often a good thing to do, because it brings us out of ourselves. Not only that, but Isaiah 58:9-11 makes it clear that in pouring out for others, you will be filled. You may not have much to give at the moment. Or you may find that already God is using what you have been through to help others, and in the process, bring you joy.

But there is one thing that is greater, and that I have seen at work in myself, others, and the Bible. We remember the sorrows of the prophet Jeremiah, and of David, Jesus, Job, and others. But often overlooked is is Elijah, who in 1 Kings 19 was so depressed he told God that he wanted to die.
Elijah is despairing. God comes, but He doesn’t answer Elijah’s questions. He doesn’t ease Elijah’s burden or say anything to soothe the turmoil inside.
He simply shows Elijah Himself.
And there is the answer, for what we do while we wait for the Holy Spirit to bring us to the vav, to a point of change.
Be still, and behold your God.

Even when you cannot feel Him, you can seek Him out. Remember what He has done in the past, seeing His faithfulness and love. Remind yourself of His mighty deeds, and there find His power to save. Read Isaiah or Ephesians, filling up on who He is. As you behold Him, you will find strength to hang on, perhaps still wondering at and questioning the mystery of your suffering, but trusting Him.

Even when you cannot believe it, remind yourself of truth. Truth will set you free from the lies of the devil. Truth will be your belt, holding it all together. Truth will allow you to have faith in God, because you will know even when you cannot see it, that God has been faithful in the past, and if God does not change, then that means He will be faithful again. And then that faith will be your shield, to extinguish attacks of the devil.

It seems so simple, and yet it is so powerful: Behold your God. His love, His power, His beauty, His faithfulness. The place I see all of that most clearly is Isaiah 40 – but I have written about that before.
Draw near to Him. Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord. Don’t be so busy you don’t have time to see Him.
Be patient with yourself. Let God work – wait, don’t rush it.
Lament, and find joy again – find Him even in the darkest night.
Remember Jesus: He was forsaken too. He understands. And not only does He understand, but He intercedes for us before the throne of the Father.

And what can I say to those of us for whom suffering is far away? Two things:
First, be prepared. One day you will be dealing with it. Know God well now and you will be well-equipped for later.

Second, care for those who are depressed and suffering. In his book, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, Piper writes about John Newton, who cared for William Cowper. Newton said that he had drunk deeply of God and was overflowing with joy for those who weren’t. Newton was able to invest in Cowper, reminding him of truth when Cowper couldn’t see it himself.
We may wonder if our “easy joy” rubs those who are suffering the wrong way. At times, I’m sure it does. But more often, I think it is something that can overflow from us into them. I have seen it happen, and have been told it was happening even when I couldn’t see it.
We may not always be able to persuade them of the truth, but we can still stand by them and not let them sink deeper into depression.

Those of us who find joy easy and suffering lacking may not be that way so that our lives can be easy, but to allow us to pour joy into those who cannot find it themselves. The length to which we are willing to come alongside them and share in their suffering shows our level of commitment and love for them, how much and how deeply we care for them.

Do be careful not to turn God into plain theology or try to reason out the suffering as Job’s friends did. Don’t speak just to speak. Be silent if you need to, but be with them. Remind them of truth, and hold them up when they are sinking. Tell them who God is when He seems to be gone from them. Love them in every way you can, be it meals, phone calls, hugs, babysitting, silence, or anything else. Give hope to them when it seems to them they have none. Be patient with them. Let them talk. Don’t bash their feelings, but help them focus on the truth.

Behold Him, and then help others behold Him when He seems far-off, just as God did for Elijah, and Newton did for Cowper.

Book Review: Political Gospel

What should the church’s role in politics be? How much should we care about politics? Should we emphasize the heavenly kingdom and withdraw from earthly governments or should we become activists? When do we submit to government and when do we disobey to follow Christ?

Schreiner seeks to answer these questions in his book Political Gospel.
His thesis is that Christianity is political, not in the way that we usually think, but because Jesus is the King of Kings, and so we belong ultimately to another kingdom and are under a greater ruler than any earthly ruler. But because God has appointed earthly rulers, we do have a duty to submit to them, but only when our ultimate submission and allegiance is to God—which will sometimes be “subversive.”

In Schreiner’s own words, “The gospel message is a world-forming, public, and political reality. Jesus calls people to a new way of life, a new society, a new community. In this way, Jesus and Paul contested the current order of society. Yet at the same time, Jesus is after no earthly throne.”

Schreiner gives a framework for Christians’ role in politics. He almost entirely avoids specific issues. He bases his arguments on Ancient Greek and Roman culture, the New Testament narratives, and the Epistles.

First, he shows that “gospel,” “faith,” “son of God,” and of course, “kingdom” were all political ideas in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ message conflicted with earthly politics—not because he wanted to take Caesar’s place in the 1st century A.D., but because he is the ultimate King of all time.

Next, he turns to our job to both submit and to subvert. Not one or the other, but both in tension. These are touchy words, so he defines them: To subvert means “to use your words or actions to critique or undermine the usual way of doing something.” To submit means “to voluntarily yield to the authority of another.” Here he gives examples from both the Epistles (where the emphasis is more on submit) and Acts (where we get most of our examples of refusing to submit). This is done not ultimately as “pro” or “anti” government, but “altergovernment” as we live in a community “loyal to King Jesus and make all other political allegiances pale in comparison.” For a longer quote here: “The primary task of our communities is not to run to secular political orders for protection, to dominate political processes, or to bring about the “Christian” state. The primary task is to stand as a witness to an alternative political society.” Ultimate allegiance to Jesus will often mean submission. But sometimes it means speaking out against wrongs in government, and sometimes it means that by our very lives as faithful Christians, we undermine the status quo—not because we are stirring something up or are even actively involved in politics. Paul was accused of political things, but what he was doing was preaching.

Finally, after first the way of the Dove (Jesus’ ministry), and the way of the subversion in a way of submission (Paul), he turns to the way of the Lion embodied in the slain Lamb (the future). Jesus’ second coming matters to our politics. Revelation shows us the end of all earthly kingdoms, and pulls back the curtain on what they really are. And it tells us that Jesus’ kingdom is not one that is ultimately “in our hearts” but is real and physical.

The Christian way is not one of nationalism, utopianism, or withdrawal. It is one of faithful, pilgrim citizenship and proclamation. Schreiner’s book is a good start in exploring what that way looks like. Its strength lies in proving how political Christianity is. Its weakness is that the submission/subversion section is not as fleshed out as I would have liked. I still have numerous questions in that area—some of which is me thinking through personal experiences and what that looks like as a stay-at-home-mom. His use of Judas as an example in the last chapter also needed more substantiation.

A word to my more conservative friends: Schreiner does reference systemic racism multiple times. My point in bringing this up is not to address that issue, but because I know people who wouldn’t listen to Schreiner because of that. I have some quibbles with examples Schreiner uses while trying to stay away from the issues—he could have done a better job picking things Christians across the spectrum agree on when giving examples—but the book is still 100% worth reading, so please don’t let disagreements on the issues stop you from picking up Political Gospel.

I’m hoping this isn’t just tickling my ears that are annoyed with the way I see many Christians interacting with politics, but I love this framework. It makes so much sense of gut feelings I’ve had in the last few years.

Read this book, because “we are too political in the wrong way. We give too much power to earthly powers when we speak of them constantly. One of the ways to be truly political is to speak more of God’s reign and thereby put Caesar’s reign in its proper place.”

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my review)

A Study of Lament: Pour Out Your Heart

(written in 2013; this series draws heavily from Michael Card’s book A Sacred Sorrow)

We try to hide our pain and sorrow. We see it as embarrassing, or even wrong, for the Christian. After all, we’re supposed to rejoice always, aren’t we?

Yes, but I don’t think that rejoicing in the Lord equates a “happy smile,” and I definitely don’t think that Christians cannot go through seasons of sorrow. That’s not to say a Christian should remain in a state of depression. We are commanded to be joyful – but I think we forget that there is a time for sorrow and mourning. Tears – whether of the eyes or of the heart – are a normal part of the Christian life, used by God for His glory.

Jesus was a man of sorrows, and in Romans 8 it says that we are being conformed to the image of Christ. That brings me to believe that weeping has a place in the life of the Christian. It also causes me to think that the embarrassment we have at our tears and sorrows is wrong, because Jesus wept openly.

I also know that God doesn’t look with disdain upon our tears. In Psalm 56 it says that He takes account of our tears, even putting them in a bottle. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that those who mourn are blessed. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes not that they are not to grieve, but they are to grieve as those with hope. Ecclesiastes 3 states that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Those aren’t the only scriptures about it, though.

The Psalms are full of examples of lament. Just a quick read-through of the book turns up many: 6, 13, 17, 22, 38, 55, 56, 42, 51, 60, 62, 63, 74, 77, 88, 89, 102, 109, 130. They are laments for various reasons: sin, enemies, judgment, physical suffering, and abandonment. I encourage you to read them, pray through them, think about them, let inspire your own laments, even if there is nothing troubling you now. There will one day be mystery, unanswered questions, sorrow, in your life. Our lives begin in pain and tears, and they will most likely end in pain and tears as well.

When you feel that things are not right in the world, or when your sin is weighing you down, or when a loved one dies, or your body is racked with pain – when His presence is seemingly broken, His hesed – His mercy – gone, and you ask “Where are You? If You love me, then why?” When the curse of Genesis 3 that life is now toil and pain and sorrow seems more real than ever before – what will you do?

When it seems that God is gone from you and you have to decide whether to press on even when His face is hidden, asking yourself “What is God worth to me? Will I stay faithful to Him in the pain, or will I walk away?”
When you’re in the wilderness, or grieving over sin, suffering at the hands of enemies – will there be faith?

To some, lament seems like despair, not faith. It seems like yelling at God. But even though lament is honest with God, it refuses to let go of Him, asking questions of the mystery but refusing to doubt. It keeps us connected to God even when God seems so far away. Michael Card calls it the path to true praise. It empties self of self so that we can praise, so we can look beyond the pain right now and focus on who God is, learning to love Him not for His benefits but for who He is.

But how do we lament?
The simplest answer comes from Lamentations 2:19, where it says “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.” Tell Him everything, even the things you feel you shouldn’t (you’re already thinking them; He knows).

Acknowledge your pain – you can’t heal a wound if you don’t admit it’s there. Don’t be idle as you wait for God. Remind yourself of truth, even when you can’t see it. You may have to do it over and over and over again, mixed in with crying out to God, before there is any change. Ultimately, the vav, the change, is something that only God can bring. Often in the Psalms it seems random and out of place, sudden and unexpected after seasons of lament. You can remind yourself of truth, but true change only comes from God.

Because of the vav, lament is no longer bitter, but sweet (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3), much sweeter than holding onto and hiding sorrow. Because lament doesn’t end in feeling forsaken, it doesn’t end in sorrow. He calls us to remember His love. Something great comes – the cross, and we look ahead to heaven, when we will part with lament.

But until then, there is suffering, and much of it.
Richard Baxter wrote that “suffering unbolts the door of the heart, that the Word hath easier entrance.” When all is going well, we lean too hard on things other than Him. Suffering causes us to lean only on Him, revealing how much we need Him, and how often we smother our need for Him in the things of this world. It makes us see God for God, not as theology we talk about, but as One that we can be with and talk to.

That is one “reason,” and yet it is often not enough. We find suffering unfair. We want to know why us and not another. We wonder how God can be good and bring this evil upon us.
We can seek answers, but still must acknowledge the mystery of God’s sovereignty, especially His sovereignty in conjunction with man’s responsibility when we are harmed by men. God is never an accomplice of evil. C.S. Lewis notes in The Problem of Pain that pain is only a problem if there is something greater out there that claims to be good. He writes that our view isn’t whole, so while we may see a contradiction there isn’t one. I won’t write more about it here, but Lewis’s book is very good, as is D.A. Carson’s book, How Long, O Lord? which also addresses those questions.

As for fairness, there isn’t a lack of fairness on God’s part. There is the mystery again, what we don’t understand or see in what God is doing, what is going on behind the curtain. Lamentations 1:18, Deuteronomy 34:2, and Habakkuk 1:5 make that clear.
There may be times we understand, but there may be times that we never know why this side of heaven. D.A. Carson asked in his book, “There will be mystery – is there faith?” Are we ready to trust, remembering what is behind us, when we cannot see the way forward? William Cowper, a hymn-writer much-acquainted with depression, wrote:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

The Rings of Power: Season One Review

Ezra and I watched the whole first season of The Rings of Power. This is going to be a spoiler-free review, except for the following discussion of First, Second, and Third Ages. I will mention things that happen regarding believability, but have tried to make it vague. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Rings of Power in the comments, but make sure you give spoiler warnings if needed.

We weren’t going to watch season one right away, but we had a student prime trial and then Ezra went to a watch party for the first two episodes–and it wasn’t as bad as we’d expected. And I’m also not one to take someone else’s word for it but wanted to form my own opinions of the show based on what I myself saw.

Before I say anything else, I’ve seen some confusion as to what the show actually is. Rings of Power is an attempt at fleshing out Middle Earth’s Second Age on screen. The First Age is when The Silmarillion is set, about the creation of Tolkien’s world (Middle Earth and more) and its peoples, as well as the entrance of evil to the world and subsequent fallout. It ends with the fall of Morgoth, Middle Earth’s original bad guy. The Third Age of Middle Earth is what most people are familiar with: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set in that era. But in between is the Second Age, where Sauron, Morgoth’s protege, begins to stir in the year 500. Eventually, the rings made famous by the ring poem (“Three rings for elven kings… etc.) are forged, as well as the One ring found in the Hobbit, that LotR centers on. Although Rings of Power (ROP) compresses the timeline of the Second Age significantly, it aims to deal with the first rise of Sauron, the forging of the rings, and Numenor, an island kingdom of men. Because it’s been referred to as “Lord of the Rings on Prime,” I’ve seen some people assume that it’s a remake of Lord of the Rings, which is not the case.

It is the case, however, that Tolkien didn’t write as much about Second Age as he did about First and Third. So while there is a detailed timeline and other lore to go with it, the show in many ways is really a “fanfiction”–and it feels like it at times.

Before I get into my overarching likes and dislikes (I broke down each episode on Instagram and you can see those stories here), I wanted to comment on the three biggest reasons I’ve heard lots of people write it off.

  1. Galadriel’s portrayal as a warrior woman. To be completely honest, I don’t like this portrayal of her (and she should have had her daughter, Celebrian, by this point) and it’s definitely over the top and makes her a bit one-dimensional (though that improves as the show progresses). However, I don’t think it’s entirely at odds with what Tolkien wrote of her. She came to Middle Earth in the First Age not accepting her place in the world but seeking to find a place to rule. I believe it’s unclear exactly how she was or wasn’t involved in Feanor’s oath (a big “bad” moment in The Silmarillion), but she wasn’t noble then, and thus far ROP’s portrayal of her is very Feanorian (single-minded, bent on a task to the point of destruction). The bigger question is whether or not they will sufficiently deal with her character arc to get us to the wise Third Age Galadriel remains to be seen. This thread on Reddit has some Tolkien quotes to substantiate what ROP has done with her. I still think it’s too far and that even if she was this much of a warrior, she should be further along the arc by now, but also think that in the first season we’ve started to see some change. I’m also not sure we’re supposed to like her in season 1, but that as numerous characters point out, her fixation on revenge is a problem.
  2. ROP feels darker and grittier than LotR. It is still nowhere near Game of Thrones (that I haven’t seen any of!), but it has some more gruesome moments than LotR and some filming that is more like a horror movie (according to Ezra… I’ve never seen a horror movie). So on the one hand, I agree with this criticism. However, it isn’t over the top at this point, and depending on what Amazon continues to do with it, this once again may not be completely at odds with Tolkien. The Silmarillion is significantly darker than LotR and many of its characters are far more conflicted or even outright bad when compared to the plethora of noble characters we have in LotR. And then Tolkien himself comments that Sauron was actually more evil than Morgoth/Melkor. So I think it can be darker than LotR and still be faithful to Tolkien. However–and this is a big however–that can be done in ways that glorify violence and show too much, especially when the medium is film.
  3. Many of us fear that Amazon is going to destroy Tolkien’s moral universe. That fear is still there for me, but it did not happen in season one. In fact, one of the show’s original characters (Arondir) is one of the most noble characters in the show, and I really appreciate that.

    Those things aside, what do we think of the show? I had really low expectations, but (so?) I found it enjoyable and looked forward to new episodes being released. This was part out of enjoyment of the actual show, but also because picking it apart and comparing it with Tolkien canon has been so fun for me. I often had my books out during or right after watching the show. In many ways, it’s felt like a book that you don’t want to put down and has some really good moments, but also has many major flaws.

So what, in my opinion, are the flaws in ROP?

  • Inconsistencies and lack of realism: This is what has actually sunk the show for most people I know and I think makes it harder to fixate on the lore digressions. Things like an apparently near-mortally wounded person jumping on horse and riding 6 days for Elvish medicine that was earlier said not to exist, and no one bats an eye when they ride off like that with such a great wound. Or a blind woman not wanting anyone to know but then wearing a blindfold with no explanation. I know as a former fiction writer I may think about this more than some, but these are professionals making this show! Consistency and realism are vital. You have to make note of things that are said and done early on and be consistent. And you have to check the believability of things, like can someone really ride for 6 days with such a wound? Can water ever really flow uphill? Can people ever survive a pyroclastic flow at that proximity? Would a powerful island nation really only have a handful of navy ships–and then apparently have many similar ships in the harbor only a few episodes later? Are the orcs shadow ninjas or lumbering oafs? Why do all the male elves except Gil-Galad have short hair? How many orcs are actually in the Southlands and how big are its villages? Tolkien’s books have such depth to them because he built the world so carefully. As an author, he thought about things like consistent timelines, characters, and people groups, and the creators of ROP need to do better in this area.
  • Likewise, there is some really cheesy screenwriting.
  • Polytheistic Numenoreans: Various Numenoreans refer to “the gods.” From a purely “historical” perspective, Numenoreans weren’t polytheists. The mountain in the background is where they went to worship Eru (aka God). Comments about “gods” then make no “historical” sense, unless it’s meant to be a reference to the Valar, as Tolkien does at times refer to them as “gods,” but considering Tolkien’s worldview and other comments he makes about the Valar, they aren’t really even demi-gods (I admit that’s a debate, though). Even later, when Melkor-worship is instituted under Sauron, it’s *still* monotheistic. I have not thus far been annoyed at or picked up on any sense of the makers of ROP inserting modern politics and ideas the way many have been concerned about (Galadriel’s warrior mode has some Tolkien support and Nori’s “child-is-always-right” is fairly standard fare these days). But, references to the gods do strike me as ignoring Tolkien’s own worldview and not seeking to present *his* work. This has also meant that the show, while thus far not straying from Tolkien’s morality, has lacked moral logic. Some bad guys are portrayed as pretty sympathetic and the Numenoreans also aren’t given much of a reason to be Faithful. Not a lot has been said or shown about why Sauron and Morgoth were bad, except that they killed elves. But the only reason we have to like the elves or think that they’re good is that they’re our main characters. Adding Eru and the Valar into the picture the way Tolkien does changes this and gives a deeper reasoning for right and wrong, and why siding with the elves is the right thing to do.
  • Elendil was underwhelming for most of this season (really up till his last big scene, but then I thought he was stellar). I think he’ll grow into it, but it was still disappointing, especially because I expected him to be my favorite and he isn’t yet (Elrond is… which if you know me, an elf being my favorite is a huge departure from the usual).
  • Timeline compression: The biggest let-down for me was in the arrival in Numenor and how you could tell they weren’t at their peak. But then as characters were introduced, I realized that while what’s happening in Middle Earth is around S.A. 500, when Sauron first starts to stir in Middle Earth, they’ve compressed the timeline so that Numenor is closer to 2899. That’s confusing if you know more of the lore and has made a number of things fall flat or feel very out of place for me. Once I figured out the alternate ROP timeline it wasn’t as bad, but the bulk of the lore departures were due to timeline compression. It kind of makes sense because they only have 50 hours to do thousands of years, but I think this degree of compression was unnecessary and things like some people appearing in Second Age who shouldn’t be there until Third Age (which would then have given them more time to do what IS in Second Age without compressing so much). I don’t think they will be able to convincingly put 3,000 years of events into Elendil’s lifetime. I’ve seen others propose a 5-season storyline that is much more accurate to what Tolkien wrote and much better storytelling… and I wish Amazon had done it differently, especially when you consider their budget and all of the Tolkien scholars they’ve had access to.

But… there have been characters I love and moments that have made me hold my breath or my heart sing–like the first glimpses of Numenor and Khazad-Dum or when Arondir, Bronwyn, and Theo are standing in the sunlit field, or Miriel and Elendil in the hold of the ship, or Elrond’s interactions with Durin, or Elrond generally, or Easter eggs like the statue of Earendil. I didn’t love who Sauron ended up being; they could have done the lead-up way more accurately and without big questions, and the lead-up was condensed to a matter of days instead of hundreds of years. But the actual reveal was pretty well-done and his manipulation was SO Sauron (when he said “I have been awake since before the breaking of the first silence. In that time I have had many names” I did get chills). There are significant departures from Tolkien in lore, timeline, and feel, and moments that have made us groan (and some added romance that made me mad and I’m not sure strengthened the storyline), but there have been enough glimpses of the real thing that I think I’ll be watching the next season. I also have lots of questions and curiosity about how they’ll continue some storylines–hopefully to bring them more in line with the lore, but we’ll see.

The difference between Kyleigh in 2005 watching LotR for the first time and Kyleigh in 2022 watching ROP for the first time is that while I’ll still critique it to a very high standard, I can enjoy it without expecting it to be perfect, even though I wish it was. I think, ultimately, I just like having an excuse to nerd out on Tolkien, and delving deeper into Tolkien because of the show in order to analyze it is probably what has made ROP rewarding and enjoyable, even though it hasn’t been a great show. ROP still has a lot of potential. It didn’t live up to its potential in this season, but it also didn’t fall irredeemably short of it yet (though I don’t have high expectations of them redeeming it).

I have way more thoughts, particularly on specific characters or events, but then there’s spoilers. So leave a comment, send me an email, or message me on Facebook or Instagram to talk about it more!

The Quarterly: 3rd Quarter 2022

Here we are, in the final quarter of 2022! It’s been a full year for us so far and the biggest changes are yet to come for us.

best of online// 
1. New Directions in Pooh Studies (a satire piece)
2. Tolkien’s Palantiri and social media
3. Lebanon Documentary–What is Lebanon’s Hope?
4. Comparing the lives of Native Americans (helpful little video we watched for school)
5. Queen Elizabeth II, in her own words
6. Her beautiful funeral sermon
7. Rings of Power: we have been watching it, and I’ve been sharing my thoughts on Instagram after each episode. My thoughts on it are many and complex and fluctuate with my mood and different episodes and how gracious I feel like being, so I love the varying opinions in this article.

reading of late//
The Enchanted Places (Christopher Milne)
Everything Sad is Coming Untrue (Daniel Nayeri)
The Return of the King*
The Dragon and The Stone (Butler)
The Emotional Life of Our Lord (Warfield)*
The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs (Mosebach)*
A Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason)
Beholding and Becoming (Ruth Chou Simmons)
Elements of Style (Strunk and White)
Parenting ADHD Now
The Dark Queens (Puhak)
Descriptions and Prescriptions (Emlet)*
I Work at a Public Library
Let Me Be a Woman (Elliot)
The Joy of Hearing (Schreiner)*
The Tolkien Reader (Tolkien)*
Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture
Empire of the Summer Moon
A Man Called Ove*
Your Child’s Profession of Faith (Gunderson)
Never Pay the First Bill

* the highlights

The Kids// We started school in early September, and they’ve been doing so well. It’s honestly been so different than last year. I think they grew a lot over the summer and S has commented a number of times how much “easier” school is this year.

A Study of Lament: The Man of Sorrows

(written in 2013; this series draws heavily on Michael Card’s book A Sacred Sorrow)

Whether we are suffering because of judgment or in innocence, God’s purpose is for His glory. The greatest example of innocent suffering is Jesus, and like the sufferings of Job and Jeremiah, Jesus’ suffering is also for God’s glory.

Perhaps the greatest comfort to me in seasons of sorrow is that Jesus understands. Isaiah 53 says, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” And in Hebrews 2, the author notes that Jesus was made like us in every respect.

In the incarnation, He entered our suffering. He stepped into the sin-cursed world. In His perfection, He was more aware of things “not being right” than we are. He understood the fullness of the brokenness of our condition. He was tempted, like us.

He suffered, like us. Injustice, pain, spiritual torment. He was innocent, like Job. He wept over Jerusalem, like Jeremiah. And he was forsaken and alone, like David.

He was born, like all of us, in pain and tears. But it didn’t stop at His birth – the innocent were slaughtered as Herod sought to destroy Jesus. And so there was weeping yet again.

Then He Himself lamented for Jerusalem, longing for her to come to Him, weeping for the coming judgment, but ending with hope: “you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” There was devastation coming, but Jesus knew that one day there would be repentance, and so His lament contained hope.

But even more than identifying with our pain, Jesus shows us what the answer to our suffering is. He came down and joined our problem, but He didn’t leave it alone. He pronounced blessing and future joy for those who are mourning, but it didn’t come in the way everyone thought. He showed us that the answer to our pain isn’t a solution, but His presence. It’s not what we asked for, but it’s what we need more than anything else.

Jesus became Immanuel, so that Immanuel, God with us, can be forever. He offered His hesed, His lovingkindness, in a way that can never be lost because it is based on Jesus and not our performance. He came to free us from chains of sin that weighs us down. He came to fill our need, and to bring us to God – who is worth every pain, who makes it not about us but about His glory, which is far greater. He doesn’t take pleasure in our pain, but allows it because it results in His glory.

While He was God with us, there was a time when He was forsaken by God. Condemned and separated, He suffered the darkest night a soul has ever known. He was accounted as sinful and judged by His Father, cut off from the most intimate relationship anyone has ever known.

“The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief… As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied. By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:10-11).

It was when Jesus was forsaken that God was using Him most. Like a lament, the suffering and questioning of God turned to rejoicing for His love and mercy.

Jesus conquered the root of our suffering – our sin, and so now in lament there is a certainty of a change from sorrow to joy. There is a certainty that the sorrow will end for His children and result in great rejoicing, because there is a promise of an eternal life of knowing the Father.

He came and fixed our problems, not by taking them away, but by giving us Himself in them so that we will have everything we will ever need.
Remember that, when it seems you are forsaken. He is working even then, and He will not cast off forever (Lamentations 3:31-32).

Jesus of the Scars
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
– Edward Shillito

2022 Second Quarter

Here we are, nearing the end of the third quarter of the year, and I’m just posting this!

memorization// Mark 10:23-31

favorite recipes//
1. chocolate ganache mascarpone tart
2. slow cooker chicken shwarma

best of online// 
1. a fascinating lecture on Hildegard von Bingen
2. Dates improving labor?
3. A Ukrainian Prayer, John Rutter
4. Thomas Tallis Te Lucis Ante Terminum
5. Scrambling for the Light (Kathryn Butler, on mental health and medication)
6. Ubi Caritas (I sang this in choir years ago and just rediscovered it)
7. Tolkien narrates the Ride of the Rohirrim
8. Queen Elizabeth in portraits
9. Approaches to Homeschooling: The Child’s Nature
10. When the Mob Shows Up the Monday After Roe
11. In the Twinkling of an Eye (Full of Eyes animation)

my writing//
Helping Mothers Through PMADs
Two Truths and a Lie About God’s Will in Miscarriage

reading of late//
Son of the Shield (Schlegel)*
How to Read the Prophets (Gentry)*
Jesus’s Final Week (Cook)
The Dark Night of the Soul (St. John of the Cross)
The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)*
Shiloh (Sorensen)
The Theology of Jeremiah (Goldingay)
Mama Bear Apologetics (Ferrar, audio)
Handbook on the Prophets (Chisholm)
Can We Trust the Gospels (Williams)
Strange New World (Trueman)*
The Jesus Scandals (Instone-Brewer)
The Two Towers*
The Divine Comedy (Dante, audio))
The Real James Herriot (James Wight)
Four Portraits, One Jesus (Strauss)
Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc (Brooks)
The First Four Years (Wilder, audio)
(Asterisk indicates the best ones!)